The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD) hosted its two-part series “Black Lives, American Justice, From Ferguson to Dallas” this past September. The events celebrated the National Dialogue on Race Day and were separated into two panels featuring professors, activists and community members. The events were held in the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the tragic deaths of eight law enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and a controversial national presidential election.
Each hour-long discussion focused on A Vision for Black Lives, the policy document published by The Movement for Black Lives. The policy document outlines six areas of interest including Ending The War on Black People, Invest-Divest, Reparations, Economic Justice, Community Control and Political Power. The featured panelists hailed from the LBJ School, College of Liberal Arts, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and the broader Austin community.
Part One, held on September 15th, featured a lively discussion around the practical measures of the Black Lives Matter movement in today’s political landscape. Guest panelists included Dr. Leonard Moore, Activist Fatima Mann, Professor Sherri Greenberg, Dr. Becky Pettit, Virginia Cumberbatch and Dr. Christen Smith.
The talk also discussed the implications of the university’s role in Austin’s marginalized communities. Dr. Christen Smith of the African Diaspora Studies Department commented that “East Austin wants the involvement of UT Austin, but not like the neighborhood is a laboratory. The university must be more thoughtful and receptive to what the community actually needs and wants if we hope to make progress.”
Held the following week on September 21st, Part Two of the National Dialogue on Race featured a continued discussion of The Movement for Black Lives. It also addressed some of the key policy concerns in diverse fields like community engagement, education, and criminal justice. The featured panelists included Dr. Kevin Cokley, Professor Michele Dietch, Dr. Peniel Joseph, Dr. Michele Rountree, and Dr. Jeremi Suri.
School of Social Work Professor Michele Rountree took aim at community health policies that would produce more inclusive outcomes for communities of color. She commented that “it is important that we think about the broader health outcomes of marginalized communities when advancing the Black Lives Matter policy agenda.” Professor Kevin Cokley discussed strategies for fruitful conversations that go beyond the internet chat rooms and engage individuals across the racial divide.
Dr. Peniel Joseph, founder of The CSRD, concluded by stressing the necessary importance of hosting these difficult dialogues. “While America believes it lives in a post-racial society, we can see that huge disparities continue to exist for people of color and their treatment in this country. Overall, we hope these conversations produce new strategies for targeting and improving the lives of black folks.”